Pearl-to-Atlanta pipeline helps motivate M-Braves as 2023 season begins

Published 8:00 am Friday, April 7, 2023

PEARL — For 18 years, the road to The Show in the Atlanta Braves’ organization has run through Mississippi. The latest crop of prospects arrived this week hoping that remains true as ever.

A total of 163 Mississippi Braves alumni have gone on to play in the majors since the Atlanta Braves moved their Double-A affiliate to Pearl in 2005. The list includes nine members of Atlanta’s 2023 opening day roster — five of whom were in the starting lineup.

Knowing the Braves’ affinity for homegrown talent, and that the Pearl-to-Atlanta pipeline is a reality, is a strong motivator, players said.

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“It gives guys around here good signs that anything can happen. You’re one phone call away,” infielder Cal Conley said. “But we try to take it day by day and keep the focus on winning, playing together as a team and doing the best we can every day.”

Conley is one of five M-Braves who are ranked among the organization’s top 30 prospects. He is ranked No. 14, and is joined by pitchers Roddery Muñoz (No. 21), Alan Rangel (26), Tanner Gordon (28), and Luis De Avila (30). Muñoz will be the starter when the M-Braves host Biloxi Friday at 7 p.m. for the season opener.

• 2023 Mississippi Braves schedule

The three-game series continues Saturday at 6:05 p.m. and Sunday at 2:05. The M-Braves then go on the road to face Chattanooga and return home April 18 to start a six-game series vs. Montgomery.

The Mississippi Braves and Diamond Baseball Holdings will donate $1 from every ticket sold to the Red Cross for tornado relief efforts in Rolling Fork.

Manager Kanekoa Texeira said he was fired up to see his team in action.

“Excitement. The kids are really excited to get out there,” Texeira said. “I wish I could play 30 guys at a time, but unfortunately I can only play nine. Some guys will have to wait to get that excitement, which sometimes gives us some anxiety, but I think Friday night you’ll see some fun stuff out of these kids.”

While the Atlanta Braves are stocked with Mississippi alumni, Mississippi will be full of Rome Braves this season. Texeira estimated that as many as “15 or 16” players from the High-A affiliate’s 2022 roster could matriculate up to Double-A at some point in 2023.

Texeira himself made the leap, after managing the Rome Braves to a berth in the South Atlantic League playoffs last season.

“The core of this team, we’ve been together the last few years. It’s a fun group of guys. A lot of good teammates in the clubhouse. It makes it easier to play as a team. We all have the same goal in mind, too, to play hard for Tex,” said Conley, who hit six home runs in 44 games for Rome last year. “A lot of us are similar guys on and off the field. We’d hang out a lot off the field and obviously we’re here all day. It makes it easier, definitely.”

If things go well, however, the 2023 M-Braves won’t remain in their current state. Winning a second Southern League championship in three years is a goal, but as always the bigger aim is to send as many players to the major leagues as possible — and as soon as possible.

“It’s great. Competing-wise, it just makes you want to keep working,” said pitcher Victor Vodnik, who has spent parts of the past two seasons in Pearl. “You’re a call away. Even though you’re in Double-A, it doesn’t really matter. You know you could get called up from here, and as long as you perform and handle your business and it all goes well.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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